Contextual Frames of Reference in Translation-4

From the Foreword to this book, by Prof. Lourens de Vries (Vrije Universiteit,
“Contextual Frames of Reference in translation shows both the daunting complexity of Bible translation and ways to deal with it, to reduce complexity and make it manageable. By doing so the book is a tremendous help in teaching students of Bible translation to make informed and balanced decisions. Students learn to look at Bible translation from multiple perspectives at the same time, called contextual frames of reference in the book. These contextual frames are presented in an ordered fashion, from the most abstract to the most concrete. The book starts with the most abstract and encompassing frames, the cognitive contexts of the mind as shaped by deep, often unconscious cultural orientations that are at work behind source and target texts. This is followed by sociocultural, organizational, and textual frames, and the book ends with the most concrete internal frames formed by the text of Scripture itself, with its patterns of genre specification, rhetorical accentuation and phonic enhancement. The coursebook does not argue for a particular theoretical standpoint nor does it tacitly assume one, and this is a strength for a book aimed at teaching Bible translation.

“By naming these contextual frames and ordering them from the most abstract to the most concrete, students have a wonderful analytical tool to distinguish and label the many kinds of multiplicity and plurality they inevitably encounter and to gradually zoom in on the text itself without loosing sight of the wider cognitive, sociocultural, organizational and situational contexts in which those texts function and are communicated. . . .

The tools offered in this book are not meant to replace that wonderful faculty of the human brain we call intuition, a faculty that helps us to weigh the many, often competing and contradictory factors that are involved in decision-making in all aspects of our lives. Rather, the book serves the ultimately intuitive decision-making process in the heads and hearts of translators by creating awareness of contextual frames of reference, by helping competent translators to explicate and critically reflect on their intuitions and to engage in informed dialogues with their partners in the translation project. That, after all, is the ultimate frame of reference: a community of individuals, working together cooperatively in the multifaceted effort to communicate the Word of God meaningfully unto themselves.”

This “Coursebook for Bible Translators and Teachers” (see previous posts) is intended primarily as a class text for use in an advanced course on Bible translation. Ideally, it would accompany the resource book Bible translation: Frames of Reference (T. Wilt, ed., St. Jerome, 2003) and Translating the Literature of Scripture (E. Wendland, SIL International, 2004). It is assumed that users are students either at a tertiary educational institution, or those who have completed at least one intensive introductory course on translation, or who are in the second year of a more exclusive translator-training programme. It would also be helpful, though not absolutely necessary, if readers already have some hands-on experience in translation, whether in the religious or secular field.

This text may also be employed as a guide and source book for translation consultants and trainers who might appreciate having some ready background or lesson material available. They could thus select or adapt pertinent excerpts when preparing a workshop for advanced translators or team exegetes—those who have at least a university or seminary-level degree in translation studies, Bible translation, biblical studies, and/or biblical Hebrew/Greek. Outside of its use as a designated class text, this coursebook can serve as a primary or secondary resource in established courses that employ other materials or are designed for different purposes (e.g., for professional translators). Alternatively, the text may be assigned in portions for experienced translators to study through as part of a private “continuing education” programme monitored by their project consultant. The many study questions and exercises that have been included will no doubt suggest many others that teachers and trainers may wish to assign to students, either in addition to, or in place of the ones currently given.

The author is a seminary classroom instructor as well as a Bible translation field consultant-trainer who has himself been progressively instructed by his students and translation colleagues over the years. Thus, much of the material presented in this coursebook has already been tested and, in turn, benefited from the revisions that have been proposed by class participants, both directly (their explicit comments and queries) and indirectly (through difficulties encountered at certain critical junctures). However, I consider this to be very much a work-in-progress that will undoubtedly profit from additional critical feedback and suggested additions or modifications.

About ewendland

I am currently an instructor at the Lutheran Seminary, Lusaka, ZAMBIA (since 1968). My academic training has been in biblical studies (BA, Northwestern College; MST, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary), Bible translation (several SIL courses), linguistics (MA, University of Wisconsin, Madison), and African languages (PhD, UWM). I am a “retired” translation consultant for the United Bible Societies (having worked with projects in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). I currently still serve as an external examiner in Zambian languages (University of Zambia) and as visiting professor in OT, NT, and Ancient Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, with an affiliation to the Centre for Bible Interpretation and Translation in Africa ( My research and writing interests focus on the literary (structural, poetic, rhetorical) analysis of biblical texts and their oratorical translation, especially in southeastern Bantu languages (
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